Both sides wonder what Pelosi means by ‘center’

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are wondering exactly what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meant by her pledge to “govern from the middle.”

Pelosi (D-Calif.) made that promise immediately after the election that expanded her Democratic majority.


To Republicans, it does not mean increased bipartisanship.

GOPers spent their first day as representatives of the 111th Congress vilifying the Speaker — who was reelected and unanimously supported by her caucus — for changing the rules regarding how much power the minority has to hinder the legislative process on the floor.

“‘Governing from the middle’ or bipartisanship means that Democrats and Republicans negotiate a compromise on a piece of legislation — either before it’s introduced or through the amendment process,” said a GOP leadership aide.

But even some Democratic officials concede that a more conciliatory legislative process was likely never what the Speaker meant by governing from the middle.

“I haven’t seen any evidence of working from the center yet,” said a senior Democratic aide. “And I think she meant governing from the center of her caucus. It is possible that she will reach out to the other side, but it’s too early to tell.”

In accepting the House gavel on Tuesday, Pelosi renewed her pledge to work with Republicans, but also hinted that “urgency” may trump some traditional notions of bipartisanship.

“Few Congresses and few presidents in history have been given the responsibility and the privilege of serving the nation in a time of such profound challenge … It is in that spirit that I pledge to you — let us all pledge to the American people that: We will look forward, not backward; we will join hands, not point fingers; we will rise to the challenge, recognizing that our love of country is stronger than any issue which may divide us,” Pelosi said, looking over to the Republicans on the floor.

“This is the lesson and legacy of the last election,” she said.

When Pelosi pledged to govern from the middle, she was just as quick to urge the new president-elect to do the same.

Saying she hoped Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaIt's Joe Biden's 2020 presidential nomination to lose Assange hit with 17 new charges, including Espionage Act violations Progressive commentator says Obama was delusional thinking he could work with Republicans MORE would “bring people together to reach consensus” on a host of issues, she reminded him that “a new president must govern from the middle.”

Two months later, it’s Obama who is earning high marks from the right for his efforts at inclusion. And House Republicans are furious at Pelosi for her reluctance to open up what could become a trillion-dollar stimulus plan to a full round of legislative hearings.

As of press time, only the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee was scheduled to hear from economists and experts on what kind of stimulus proposals were needed for the ailing economy.

{mospagebreak}But Democrats and Republicans said on Tuesday that it was at Obama’s insistence that Pelosi agreed to consider holding full committee hearings on the stimulus bill — and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) pointed out that he was still “hoping for, not expecting,” hearings in his committee.

“The monopoly on good ideas does not belong to a single party,” Obama told both Democratic and GOP party leaders in their closed-door meeting on Monday, according to reports.


Even Pelosi supporters questioned how wise it was to take the Democrats-only route.

Asked if it was smarter to have full legislative hearings or confine the bill’s particulars to Democratic members, Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said, “I would side with the president-elect on that.

“And I think that all of us, including the Speaker, will take our cues from the president-elect,” Clay added.

But Republicans remain wary of Pelosi’s ability and desire to do that.

“At this very early stage, it seems like President-elect Obama is genuinely interested in working in a bipartisan way to put together a bill that will help to help the American people,” a GOP aide said. “However, his biggest challenge may be overcoming resistance from partisan Democrats in Congress.”

And not all Democrats were sold on the idea that “governing from the middle” translates directly into the same bipartisanship Republicans would like to see.

“I think that a lot of Republicans don’t appreciate the tremendous diversity of the Democratic Caucus, diversity that’s reflected in the electorate,” said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), a vice chairman of the centrist New Democrat Coalition.

“When I talk about the center, I’m talking about how the American public interprets issues, which is across a broad spectrum of ideologies, from liberal to conservative, all of which are reflected in the Democratic Caucus,” Davis said. “We’re working to enact policies that reflect the common sense of the American people.”

Davis would not say what he believes that Pelosi’s definition of “the center” is.

“I’m not going to interpret what exactly she meant by that,” he said. “But if we’re going to retain the majority, we’ve got to take care of the gigantic number of members of the caucus who come from districts that are very conservative.”

{mospagebreak}Even if the jury is still out on how bipartisan the 111th Congress will be, Democrats said they understand the message Pelosi is trying to communicate right out of the gate.

“It’s what the American people wanted to hear, and it helps ease her reputation as a liberal,” a senior Democratic aide said. “But what governing from the middle means to Nancy Pelosi is getting her caucus on board. She’s got a 50-vote margin. She doesn’t need to worry about getting Republicans on board.”


Pelosi’s supporters say her pledge is genuine, and they say it is only the dire circumstances facing the country that are forcing Democrats to take quick action.

“We need to work quickly with the window we have,” Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Energy: Trump moves forward with rule on California drilling | House panel advances bill that resumes participation in Paris climate fund | Perry pressed on 'environmental justice' | 2020 Dem proposes climate corps Trump administration moves forward with final rule to allow new California drilling Overnight Energy: Interior chief says climate response falls on Congress | Bernhardt insists officials will complete offshore drilling plans | Judge rules EPA must enforce Obama landfill pollution rules MORE (D-Calif.) said. “We can’t squander what we have right now, which is the right chemistry to get things done.”

And Becerra called Pelosi’s early work on the stimulus bill a “balanced approached to enacting the president-elect’s agenda.”

“There is every indication that she is going to reach across the aisle to work with Republicans,” said Becerra.

Democratic aides said an early indication of Pelosi’s willingness to do that will be how far she lets Rangel and his committee — including committee Republicans — wade into tax-cut portions of the stimulus bill.

Rangel said he is eager to work with his ranking member on the bill.

“The more we hear Republicans saying that they like the direction in which we are going, I just hope we continue to move in that direction and be flexible enough to try to see whether we can be bipartisan about this,” Rangel said. “I think the bipartisan atmosphere swept the country for a variety of reasons, and that it would make a hell of a lot of sense for us to listen.”